what to do and not to do?

In the middle of the night, here is our baby who starts to cry, to be agitated in all the directions, it seems terrified, nothing seems to appease: the night terrors can be very trying for the parents, who often feel helpless. So how do you recognize them? And how to react? Should we “calm” our baby at all costs, or on the contrary let him calm down on his own? Finally, are there any tips to prevent night terrors or, better, avoid them?

Update with my friend Caroline, mother of Arthur 6.5 years old and Tristan, 4.5 years old.

History of a big fright!

That night we were having dinner with friends when suddenly we heard him scream. Arriving in Arthur’s room, I found him screaming, crying, waving his arms and legs like he was struggling. He looked terrified… No, rather, he looked like “possessed”! I thought he was having a nightmare so I hugged him. I tried to wake him up, but he was screaming more beautiful, repelled me. And what scared me the most: he had his eyes open, but wasn’t looking at me. He stared into space. So there I started to panic. I didn’t understand what was happening to him, I thought it was serious. In tears, I asked my husband to drive us to the hospital… Fortunately, he, who is less inclined to worry, suggested that I wait a bit. And in fact, after fifteen or twenty minutes (which seemed like an eternity!), Arthur calmed down and fell asleep again. That night, I didn’t sleep a night. I kept my baby with us in the bed, I held him close to me, terrified that he would have another “fit”.

In the morning, my son was calm and smiling as usual, as if nothing had happened 😀!

It was not until much later that I learned of the existence of “ night terrors »And that I understood what had happened …

So, did I react well that evening? Was I right to be so afraid? But first, what are night terrors?

Baby night terrors: how to recognize them?

A night terror is not a nightmare

Contrary to what I believed with Arthur, a night terror has nothing to do with a nightmare. Nightmares, these “dreams” which cause fear, occur during the phase of so-called “paradoxical” sleep (the body is inert, but the brain in full activity). They are more common at the end of the night and the baby usually remembers them the next day.

A night terror arises in reverse during slow deep sleep (the brain is insensitive to external stimuli), most often at the start of the night (1 to 2 hours after falling asleep).

There is no age to start having night terrors, nor to stop them, like many parents testify. Their duration is variable: it can range from 5 minutes to longer.

(Very) impressive but harmless reactions

The symptoms of night terrors (which vary from child to child) can be very impressive for parents (I can tell you, my heart almost stopped the first time! 😉). The child screams, even screams and seems terrified. If the eyes wide open, his gaze is blank. When he talks, it doesn’t make sense. He can be restless, disoriented, and even aggressive. Often, he can’t stand being touched or held.

Fortunately, all of this is safe for him (phew! I would have liked to know … I was ready to rush to the hospital! :-)). Besides, ihe is not even aware of what is happening to him, even less the presence of his parents, because he is not awake!

Once the night terror is over, he calms down and continues his night. On the other hand, if he wakes up, he is often lost and worried, especially if his parents seem disturbed (hum hum!). The next morning, most babies have no no memory of their night terror.

How to react to a night terror?

So what to do in the event of a night terror? After Arthur’s episode, I inquired. And I discovered that specialists, just like parents who had already encountered this problem, all advise to do the exact opposite of what I did! (and yes … everyone can be wrong 😀!)

Don’t wake the baby

First tip : do not try to wake up our baby, even if he looks scared or crying. This usually has the sole effect of causing another terror later in the night!

Avoid talking to or touching him

It is also better toavoid talking to and touching him. Even if he seems awake, he is not! Besides, our intervention may even prolong the episode … Better just stay next to him to make sure he doesn’t fall out of bed or hurt himself.

Some parents say that you can lay a hand on him, sing softly or whisper sweet words to him, however this is not the most recommended, as it can, on the contrary, prolong the terror. Of course, that surely has the advantage of reassuring us, because it gives us the impression of “doing something”, which is often better experienced than feeling completely helpless in the face of our baby’s distress 😉.

Wait for him to go back to sleep on his own

It will probably happen faster than you think, even if it seems like forever (I know what I’m talking about 😉)!

Look calm

Easier said than done I grant you! But if our baby wakes up, we will have understood it, it is better avoid looking panicked (not like me !). Because it might worry him, he will wonder what happened.

Moreover, to broaden the debate, if you have other concerns about sleep, and you want all the information on bedtime, sleep disorders, and tips for an effective bedtime ritual, we have you covered. concocted the Special Sleep pack, we send it to your email box:

Night terrors: can we prevent and / or avoid them?

Big question but “can we prevent or even avoid night terrors?” ” Even if we know the good reflexes to have in the event of night terror, we would necessarily like them to occur as rarely as possible … Or not at all if possible 😉! So, good news (or almost)!

Although we are quite helpless when it occurs, fortunately we can act in prevention! Finally, let’s say that we can “limit the breakage” 😉.

First, it can be helpful to know the “risk” factors, which can lead to or worsen night terrors:


And yes, unfortunately, even if it is not systematic, there is a genetic predisposition to night terrors.


Cmoderate diseases, such as infectious diseases with fever, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, are also risk factors.


Episodes can occur if the baby does not sleep enough, or if his sleep rhythm is disturbed for example, or in the event of too much external stimulation. In Arthur’s case, I probably hadn’t noticed the signs of fatigue the first time around. On the other hand, a few months later, when he again had a night terror, I was able to make the link much more easily with a lack of sleep and a context where he was undoubtedly too stimulated.

Stress or anxiety

Night terrors may appear during a period when the baby experiences events or changes in his daily life that disturb him (separation, move, change of daycare, etc.)

Regarding fatigue and stress, act on the bedtime ritual, so that our baby goes to bed soothed and not too late, can greatly help!

The ritual is also one of the points on which we support parents step by step in our coaching, « He’s finally sleeping .. (and so are we) » personalized support to find full nights (and evenings) and restful sleep for the whole family! 15 days of accompaniment by one of our sleep expert psychologist-coaches. If you are interested, to discover here 👉.

And then, there are also some parents who have tried microkinesitherapy, massage, others use “grandmother’s recipes”, others still homeopathy which works well for them… In short, why not give it a try! Lavender essence, orange blossom water

If the terrors persist or are very frequent, do not hesitate to consult a specialist, pediatrician or psychologist, who will help us see more clearly.

In any case, we also the parents, let’s try to relax. Even if it’s really impressive, our baby is not in danger! And let’s avoid reacting like I did the first time, because panic does not relieve the baby or the parent 😉.